Michael Holding pays tribute to Tony Cozier, who was covering cricket when Holding began playing for West Indies, and then helped the fast bowler start his commentary career
On his first memories of Tony Cozier
Michael Holding: First of all we have to appreciate that this is a very, very sad day. Not just for West Indian cricket, but for Tony’s entire family.
Tony was involved with West Indian cricket for so many years, long before I started playing. I remember my first close encounter with him was at a cocktail party after a Shell Shield game in Jamaica. I was at that game, perhaps 19 years old, still in school, and I was standing with Maurice Foster, who was the captain at the time. Of course Maurice knew Tony Cozier because he had been playing with the West Indies.
And Maurice Foster pointed him out to me and said, ‘That’s Tony Cozier out there, one thing I can tell you, if he writes well about you, you have a chance of playing for the West Indies.’ That was just the impact of Tony Cozier. From those days, everyone knew he was pretty much the doyen of West Indies cricket.
I spent a lot of time with him. He wrote my first book. First time I appeared on television doing cricket commentary was because of Tony Cozier. I had been in radio since 1988, just a couple of years, and then when TV Nine came to the Caribbean to cover West Indies cricket for the first time, putting it on television, the contract they had at the time, as I understand with the West Indies Cricket Board, stipulated two West Indian voices. Tony Cozier was obviously one, and Tony recommended me as a second. So he pretty much started my career in television.
I owe him a lot. I’ve spent many, many years with him in the commentary box, radio, television, travelling around the world. It’s certainly a great loss.
On how Cozier earned the trust of the players
Holding: Initially when Tony Cozier started covering West Indies cricket, some of the cricketers used to talk to him a lot about it everyday. Garry Sobers and people long before my time. And he said that he and the journalists had a great relationship with players. They would go on tour and they were allowed to even travel on the bus with the cricketers, which of course has changed now. So Tony’s coming from that era where the journalists and the cricketers sat down, had dinner together, drinks together, travelled on the same bus, to the point where journalists started being looked upon as people who don’t and shouldn’t be mixing with them too much. You have to be careful of what you say around them.
So he has gone through every era of cricket. Relationships have changed, but Tony Cozier has always been a respected person. He has always been someone that the players have never been afraid to be around, or to say things around, because they know if they say something that perhaps shouldn’t really be printed, it won’t be printed. But at the same time, Tony was not afraid to express his opinion on whatever he thinks. And sometimes it irks some of the players or administrators but Tony believed that he had to express his opinion. That is what he is being paid to do, that is what he has always done.
He expressed his opinion on his own Bajan cricketers which, knowing the Caribbean politics, doesn’t happen. I remember on one occasion he wrote that Gordon Greenidge should be dropped because he wasn’t performing at a level that everyone was accustomed to seeing him perform. The next game, Tony Cozier is in Barbados, Greenidge gets a century in Barbados, and the Bajan people are on his back. But he just saw his job as something he had to do and he kept on doing it.
On how big a loss Cozier is to West Indies cricket
Holding: A huge loss. When you look at West Indies cricket and the respected voices, and people who write about West Indies cricket over the last sixty years, it’s Tony Cozier first by some distance in my opinion and then Tony Becca. We haven’t seen too many people coming along to replace people like that. Who is the next person who is going to step up and be revered by people in the Caribbean? To whom people will look at and say, ‘if this man writes about it, or this man says it, then we have to listen to what he is saying.’ I don’t see anyone taking that position at the moment.
On what made Cozier – the commentator – succeed
Holding: Well, his insights. Tony Cozier knew the game. He was following the game for so long, especially West Indies cricket. He was also a former player, not at the highest level of course, but he did play at the highest level for hockey. He kept goal for Barbados in hockey, but he also played club cricket. So he knew the game, he had insight into the game, and he was always respectful of the game and the people who played it. So it was easy for people to accept Tony Cozier and acknowledge his brilliance. He knew everything about the game. Not just the tactics of the game, but statistics of the game. On so many occasions I remember calling Tony from different parts of the world. People arguing about a fact on cricket at any hour, in some bar or some place and they’d say immediately, ‘I’m going to call Tony,’ and they’d just ring his number because so many people had his phone number. So people always relied upon Tony, not just to discuss cricket on the day, but because they knew he had all the statistics and knew everything.
A distinct memory with Cozier
Holding: I’ve had a lot of meals with Tony Cozier, and one thing I can tell you about him is that he loves ice cream. Tony would never finish a meal without a little bit of ice cream. So I hope that wherever he’s gone to now, heaven or wherever else his spirit is, there’s ice cream there, because that will keep him going.
On Cozier’s Legacy, and how cricket should remember him
Holding: Someone who loved the game. Someone who worshipped West Indies cricket and someone who was not afraid to speak his mind whether he thought that people might not like it. He was always someone who spoke, in his mind, what the truth was and assessed the game and assessed conditions and everything surrounding the game and wrote and spoke about it fearlessly.
As far as the Caribbean is concerned, he’s right up there with Garry Sobers. I think people will call Garry Sobers the best cricketer ever, around the entire world. I wouldn’t say Tony Cozier is the greatest writer and commentator across the world because I’ve heard so much about people like John Arlott. But from what I know having played cricket and during my association with cricket, I’ve known no one here better in the Caribbean.